Why Facebook Is an Advertising Platform, Not A Social Network

Dear Facebook:

For a very long time I’ve had a love-hate relationship with you. These days, my status with you is “complicated.” That’s because I wear two hats, I’m both a user and a social media strategist.

When I first met you social media was in its infancy. We didn’t really know what to expect, but our marketing wheels were beginning to spin.  But you revolutionized it. I remember when I first moved from MySpace to Facebook.  I was really reluctant (“isn’t that where college kids are hanging out?”). But I especially appreciated the clean interface (Quora link to FB design history) and the audience was growing there, so I planted my flag. Then, businesses started planting their flags. Then you added advertising. This is where the “its complicated” begins. As a social marketer, I knew it had to happen. As a marketing professional I was salivating for it to happen. But as a user, I sighed.  Then the advertising became highly targeted depending on our Facebook sharing and preferences, we marketers loved it. Users argued about it for awhile, but in the end, we  decided to make peace with targeted ads – in fact, it was kind of nice to only see only relevant advertising. Users “accepted it.”

Throughout the years there have been various changes. To privacy. To layouts. You’ve really pushed users to accept more and more. As users, we’ve pretty much just “accepted it.” And in the end, to the relief of social marketers and advertisers, there was no mass exodus, even by those passionate postings threatened that they would leave Facebook.

Then you introduced EdgeRank. And no one but Facebook really celebrated that “enhancement.” Social marketers now reached fewer people with each post, and users didn’t see all their friends’ posts. But you, Facebook had control of the sharing, not the share-ers. You like that, don’t you? You turn on and off that spigot and social marketers can only stand by frantically responding to the changes and users can only scratch their heads about the lack of comments on their (obviously) hilarious cat picture.

The recently announced Facebook Graph Search has the social, advertising and search worlds on its head. Breathlessly waiting for the potential you’ve been carrying around for years. Finally, Facebook would make all its data useful to users (or would it just be a way to embarrass one another?).  And now we see you’re using the data we willingly have you to imply user endorsement of advertisers without the user’s knowledge based on the user’s previous “likes” or “interests” (Forbes article). So you’re doing a disservice to both advertisers and users with this move, since advertisers think they’re reaching a relevant audience, when in fact, they are just reaching an audience who may (or may not) care what their friends like. Sigh. 

But it turns out, that day that you started advertising. That was a watershed day. That’s the day you really went from being a social platform to an advertising platform. And its OK. But just own it-to your users. Your shareholders know what you are. Advertisers know what you are. Just say that’s what you are. Become the digital equivalent to the Sunday Newspaper. Host coupons, messy contents and promotions. People love that stuff and marketers love it even more. But its not social. Just because you can “share” on Facebook doesn’t make it “social.”

At its core, the “social” culture means transparency, open sharing, collaboration. Your choices aren’t supporting any of those tenants. Particularly after you decided to stop receiving feedback from users (HuffingtonPost) because of lack of participation. Kind of convenient for you since you’ve got ALL kinds of what to drive engagement, but your own initiative came and went without most people even knowing it happened.

Meanwhile, lots businesses are choosing to embrace social business, which embrace those values of transparency, open sharing, collaboration. Another tenant of social business is customer responsiveness. Its sort of ironic that a business that helped start the social business revolution isn’t a social business after all. That’s what my grandma would have called a “pig in a poke.”  But we all seem willing to just “accept it.” I do wonder if your shareholders ever wonder how much better Facebook’s stock performance might be if you embraced some more of that social business culture.  Hm. Maybe users aren’t sitting by idling after all.

I’m not naive enough to say “go away.” I’m not silly enough to tell my clients not to use Facebook. I’m not even mad. I know you gotta make a living somehow. I know using Facebook is 100% opt-in for users, social marketers and advertisers. I know who your customer is (advertisers, not users). That’s business. At least that’s the business you’ve chosen.

Just own it, okay?


Conflicted Social Media Advisor, Marketer and Facebook User.



Header Image: Creative Commons Krossbow